“Shadows Collide with People” is a terrible solo outing from a man who knows a thing or two about terrible solo outings. But in place of the dawdling jams of his earlier, drug-drenched work, this album is made up of middle-of-the-road, sterilized alternative rock with pointless instrumentals sprinkled in for good measure. From the tragically poor lyricism to the dispassionate guitars and synthesizers, nearly every aspect of the music pales in comparison to the great recent work of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There’s really no excuse for repeating “I regret my past” eight times in two minutes.
But first, some background: when 18-year-old John Frusciante joined the Chili Peppers in 1988, the band was a somewhat successful funk outfit that performed wearing only well-placed socks. Only three years later, they rocketed to superstardom on the back of the instant-classic “BloodSugarSexMagik,” which yielded the mega-hits “Under the Bridge,” “Breaking the Girl,” and “Give It Away”. One year later Frusciante quit the band, descending into a heroin addiction that would take more than five years to overcome. His house burned down, he lost his teeth (not to mention his mind), and came awfully close to going the way of the Peppers’ first guitarist, Hillel Slovak, who died of an overdose in 1988. The band struggled to find a replacement for four years, and eventually hired Dave Navarro for a year, making the poorly-received “One Hot Minute.” Frusciante didn’t fare much better, recording the drug-ridden “Smile for the Streets you Hold” and “Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt,” both of which can today be found in the dollar bin at your local record store. In 1998, Frusciante made a life-saving move to a rehab clinic, got cleaned up and rejoined the Chili Peppers. They have since released their best stuff — 1999’s “Californication” and 2002’s “By the Way” — both of which have relied heavily on Frusciante’s sublimely melodic guitar and harmonies.
“Shadows Collide with People” is, with little exception, devoid of any of the beauty that John Frusciante brings to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ best stuff. For the 18th best guitarist of all time (according to last year’s Rolling Stone’s list) his guitar on the album is magnificently disappointing. I was expecting the sweet falsetto of his vintage Fender strat, which makes a short appearance at the end of the otherwise saccharine “Omission” and “Second Walk.” In its place are poorly-programmed synthesizers and happily-strummed acoustic guitars brought together markedly awkwardly. They also overcrowd most of the tracks, a problem that isn’t exactly solved by the overexcited drumming. Also, about half of the songs sport intros with a sole synthesizer (or guitar distorted to sound like one) that have nothing to do with the songs they lead into. There is a good solo-synth opening to “Song to Sing When I’m Lonely,” one of the only songs on the album I wanted to hear a second time.
“Song to Sing,” appropriately, also has the best singing on the album. Everywhere else, Frusciante’s vocals are monotonous and uninspired — he only ventures into the high ranges he sounds best in on two tracks — and the harmonies which sound so good on “Californication” serve little purpose here. Not even Frank Sinatra, however, could save the unbelievably atrocious lyricism, which varies quite consistently from the trite and clichZ
Then there are the instrumentals, (unintentionally) hilariously titled and just as forgettable as everything else. “Double-0 Ghost 27” features only a guitar that screeches like nails on a blackboard — I’m not making that up — over a synthesized chorus singing oohs and aahs. The much more ambient “Failure 33 Object” and “23 Go In the End” rip off Philip Glass and Brian Eno, but at least they’re listenable. Speaking of ripping off, “Ricky” so blatantly steals the riff to Iggy Pop’s “Passenger” that I imagine someone is going to get sued. While on the subject of how generic this record is, “Second Walk” reminded my roommate of Avril Lavigne.
My grandma Louise bought me BloodSugarSexMagik for my eighth birthday, despite its raunchy (and, in retrospect, pretty lame) title. I couldn’t imagine a record as far from that album’s painfully gorgeous melodies, and Flea-fueled funk, as “Shadows Collide with People,” a truly limp solo effort from a truly great guitarist.
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